The Canadian government is being accused of standing in the way of a popular female Conservative senator and champion of gender equality who is seeking the presidency of the prestigious Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of 179 parliaments.
Senator Salma Ataullahjan says she has been met with silence after seeking the support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Phillippe Champagne for the top post of the international organization, established in 1874, that seeks to promote peace, democracy and human rights around the world.
“It is as if I don’t exist,” she said of the government’s silence, even though she was encouraged to put her name forward by Britain and New Zealand.
“I am a racialized woman. Maybe that is not good enough to represent Canada, the first ever Canadian to run for the IPU,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “It is very hurtful to me. I am not one of those partisan people. Look at my record. I am into human rights. I don’t deserve to be treated like this from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Minister’s office.”
Her opponents are three men from Portugal, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
A source, with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes deliberations, says the government and the Liberal Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate are holding off their support in case veteran Liberal MP David McGuinty decides to seek the job. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the issue.
Mr. McGuinty, who is the president of the Canadian chapter of the IPU, confirmed in an interview that he has not ruled out running.
“I have been asked repeatedly by different member chapters on whether I would consider doing so. I haven’t come to a final decision,” he said, noting that he is also one of the senior members of the Twelve Plus Group of 47 countries, including France, Britain and Germany, that hold enormous sway over the IPU.
Ms. Ataullahjan said Mr. McGuinty’s potential candidacy is the “old boys' club” in play and said this may explain why he refused her requests to call a meeting of the executive committee of the Canadian IPU.
“It is the old boys' club and it is worse for me because I am a racialized women who is trying to make a breakthrough. They hope I will just shut up and go away," she said. “If he wants to run, that is fine, but then we should have a vote at the executive committee to choose the more qualified candidate."
The Conservative senator says she has the support of 9 of the 12 members of the IPU Canadian executive, including several Liberal MPs.
“While we represent different parties, I’ve seen firsthand Salma’s thoughtful diplomacy at IPU conferences, and our Parliament would be lucky to have her represent Canada on the world stage,” Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told The Globe. Liberal MP Greg Fergus agreed, saying, “Salma would be a great leader of the IPU. It is good for Canada and for what our country represents.”
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner also praised Ms. Ataullahjan for “seeking justice for Yazidi survivors of genocide, and advancing the rights of LGBTQ around the world.”
Independent Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia said Ms. Ataullahjan has been a “beacon of human rights and inclusive values … and as a Muslim woman, she will raise the profile of Canada’s place in the IPU.”
A government official, who was not permitted to speak about the IPU candidacy, said the Foreign Affairs Minister will meet with whomever Canadian MPs decide to represent them as the presidential contender for the global IPU vote that takes place on Nov. 1.
The government does not formally champion Canadians seeking interparliamentary posts, although the candidacies are put forward by the Speakers of both chambers, the official said.
Complicating the vote is a move by Nordic members of the Twelve Plus Group to put up a single candidate for the presidency, who is from Portugal.
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